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Top Ten Most Memorable Fathers in Literature

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The last time I tackled a Top Ten Tuesday topic, it was ‘Most Memorable Mothers in Literature‘. So this week I’m looking at the most memorable fathers in literature: the good, the bad, and the ugly. (This was technically supposed to be last week’s TTT topic. My bad.)

Top Ten Most Memorable Fathers in Literature

1. Mr Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Mr Mortmain isn’t a great father, but he certainly is memorable. The much-celebrated author of a massive work of literary fiction, his writer’s block has not only reduced his family to genteel poverty – it’s also made him seriously unpleasant to be around. It’s a mark of how bad a dad he is that his kids lock him in an old castle tower, and everybody thinks this is the best thing they could possibly have done with him.

2. Mr Hale, from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: a mild-mannered parish priest, Mr Hale upends his family’s life when he suddenly decides that he has to leave the church and seek employment elsewhere. His ‘moral objections’ are perhaps a little vague, but it’s fascinating to see such a lily-livered character manage to throw the lives of his nearest and dearest into such utter turmoil when he moves his entire family to the industrial city of Milton. Is he a moral and brave character who chose to do the right thing no matter the consequences, or is he, as his wife at one point seems to suggest, a bad father who destroys his family’s lives for the sake of his own personal uncertainties? You be the judge.

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3. Mr Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Mrs Bennet made my ‘Most Memorable Mums’ list, so of course Mr Bennet had to be here too. While Mrs Bennet is obsessed with marrying off her daughters to rich husbands, Mr Bennet seems to care about nothing except his library and, just occasionally, possibly, his daughter Lizzy. Although he’s a sharp and witty character, considering the lack of interest he shows in his daughters’ lives and futures, he’s actually a pretty terrible dad.

4. Mr Woodhouse, from Emma by Jane Austen: the hypochondriacal Mr Woodhouse is a sweetly pathetic character. He’s terrified about people catching cold, and is constantly convinced that he’s in danger of succumbing to any number of unpleasant illnesses. And while he is almost child-like and endearing in his fearful approach to the world, there’s no denying that he’s a lot of work.

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5. Jean Valjean, from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo: Jean Valjean, an ex-con turned respectable businessman, adopts the daughter of a prostitute because he feels guilty about the fact that said prostitute died when she was thrown out of his factory. This is all very tangled up and everybody feels guilty about a whole lot of stuff, but the gist is that Valjean becomes a good dad who finds some kind of redemption by caring for his adoptive daughter. Sweet, right?

6. Arthur Weasley, from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: Mrs Weasley was also on my ‘Best Mums’ list, so I thought it only right to include her husband too. Mr Weasley is the even-tempered, Muggle-loving head of the Weasley clan, and aside from his habit of enthusiastically grilling Harry and any nearby Muggles about everything from electric plugs to escalators, he is a protective and reasonable father figure.

7. Cronos, from Greek Mythology: Cronos not only killed his own father by castrating him, he then proceeded to eat his children because a prophecy said that one of his kids would usurp him. He will not be in the running for ‘Best Dad of the Year’ any time soon.

8. Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, and Barabas, from The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe: I’ve included these two characters together because it’s pretty obvious that Shakespeare was influenced by Marlowe’s play when he wrote the character of Shylock. Marlowe’s Barabas is a truly awful father; obsessed with getting revenge, at one point he poisons everyone in the nunnery where his daughter is hiding, including his daughter herself.

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Shylock, meanwhile, is a much more difficult father to get a handle on; although he mourns when his daughter Jessica runs off with a Christian, it’s unclear whether he’s more concerned about the loss of his daughter or the money that she took with her. This uncertainty is what makes him such a fascinating character.

9. Mo, from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke: Mo is a dad with a secret and awesome gift. His voice can bring stories to life, quite literally, and this is simply the best hidden talent that a father can possibly have, next to being able to reach the lolly jar on the highest shelf when Mum’s not looking. Mo is also a kind and attentive father, in addition to his amazing supernatural gifts.

10. Sam Vimes, from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett: Vimes is introduced to readers early on in the Discworld series as a confirmed bachelor, dedicated to his life in the City Watch. But over the course of the series this slowly changes. By the seventh book in the series about Vimes, he has an entirely new role. In addition to catching the worst criminals in Ankh-Morpork, “at six o’clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read ‘Where’s My Cow?’, with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy.”

Who are your most memorable dads?


8 replies on “Top Ten Most Memorable Fathers in Literature”

I’ve hardly read any Terry Pratchett but your description of Sam Vimes is intriguing. He sounds like a great dad — what’s not to love about a guy who reads his son “Where’s My Cow?”

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